Becky Hart | Sep 15, 2023
Whether you’re after a quick fix for a case of cabin fever or simply dreaming of future summer getaways, it’s never too early to start planning your next adventure. When it comes to coordinating a vacation that’s affordable, dynamic, and relaxing, why not consider a cruise?
If you’ve never been on a cruise, you might feel a little skeptical about spending your vacation aboard what’s essentially a floating hotel. While cruises have their share of critics, there’s a reason why they’re so popular (yes, even among younger travelers, so listen up, millennials). When planned correctly, a cruise can be a very affordable way to travel, and cruise lines’ all-inclusive accommodations give you plenty of options with minimal effort required.
Just as every traveler has unique characteristics and quirks, so does every cruise line. That means that whether you’re setting sail with your family, as a couple, or alone, and regardless of whether you need special accommodations, there’s a ship for you.
Especially if you’ve never taken a cruise before, you probably have tons of questions. Here’s what you need to know before taking your first cruise.
Although you might be able to get a good deal on a cruise fare if you wait until the last minute, you’re going to find significantly fewer options when it comes time to choosing your cabin. If you want to sail on a specific ship or prefer a berth in a certain location onboard — inside rooms are less expensive, suites on the front or back tend to be more luxurious can also feel far removed from amenities — book sooner rather than later.
For the best cruise deals that also give you a shot at getting what you want, aim to reserve your spot as soon as fares are released. This can be as early as 18 to 24 months before sailing, so plan ahead.
There is no right or wrong answer when it comes to the best destinations for cruises. Asking “Where is the most beautiful place to cruise?” is like asking what city has the best pizza. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder … and all pizza is delicious.
To choose the best cruise destination for you, start with this list of ideas:
It’s not likely. On many of today’s cruises, you can find Broadway-quality performances and Vegas-level nightlife, all without ever stepping foot on shore. Is your cruise more about wellness or pampering? You’ll find spas, shops, and plenty of other places to unwind as well.
Worried about the kids having too much free time on their hands? Many ships offer virtual reality games, bumper cars, movie theaters, and play areas specifically for younger passengers. Choose a cruise line that caters to families, and your kids will never be bored.
While there are plenty of budget-friendly options for cruises, there are just as many that let you upgrade to the lap of luxury. In either case, it’s easy to go overboard on spending.
Most cruise lines offer packages that can accommodate a variety of budgets. Research carefully. Ask yourself what experiences you’d like to prioritize over what you can live without.
As you decide on a budget for your cruise vacation, factor in expenses like flights and hotels on either end of the cruise itself. And include all of your prepaid, nonrefundable expenses — the cruise, add-on excursions, flights, and hotels at your port of departure — in your trip cost when you buy travel insurance.
Cruises are perfect for a family vacation, family reunion, or big group of people traveling together because they offer tons of variety at an affordable price. You can spend time doing things as a group or separately, with options for everyone's interest and activity level.
Taking a cruise with everyone can be more economical and simpler to arrange than when you try to plan a multigenerational family trip on your own. Finding and purchasing all that transportation, hotels, activities, and food can be a lot. However, the cruise line handles much of this preparation, especially if you choose a package deal. And let’s face it. Sometimes the hardest part of vacations is getting everyone in your group on the same page. Cruises can ease that headache.
The first cruise line that comes to mind for many us when we think about the best cruises for kids is Disney. Disney Cruise Line caters to the young and young at heart, but they aren’t the only ones.
An increasing number of cruise lines are recognizing the need to add family-friendly amenities if they want to attract younger passengers. Cruising isn’t just for retirees anymore. Finding activities for all ages is an obvious start, but don’t forget to look into childcare options if you’re thinking about scheduling a parents-only date night at some point.
You’ll also want to look for cruises that offer children’s rates. MSC Cruises, for example, allows children under 18 staying in the same cabin as their parents to travel for free. You might still have to pay some other fees, such as port taxes or registration costs, though.
The key to having a successful cruise vacation with kids is preparation. While you’re still researching which cruise to take, get input from the entire family along the way. Consider family members’ interests, needs, and activity levels, and ask them directly what they’d like to get out of their cruise. Think about the kind of experience that your family is after (luxurious? exhilarating? peaceful?). Use that information to choose a cruise line tailored to those desires.
If you have very young children, check on cruise lines’ age minimums. In many cases, babies must be at least six months old. For longer cruises or depending on the itinerary, they may need to be even older.
Dig deeper on a cruise line’s website to find out what they mean by “family friendly” and “kids’ club.” Each cruise line will divide kids by age differently for their kids’ areas and programs. Some will have nurseries for the youngest cruisers, while others lump everyone from 3 to 13 years into one group with the same space and activities for everyone. If you have teens, everyone will probably be happier if you choose a cruise that separates them from other kids.
Consider the size of the ship and try to match it to the abilities of your child. While larger ships will offer more options for kids of all ages, the larger ones can get overwhelming, particularly for small children. If your kiddo is still at an age when they like to be carried occasionally, do you want to carry them from one end of a 1,000-foot ship to the other just to get to the pool? (That’s about the length of three American football fields.)
As you start to book your cruise and you’re making your selections on the website, you’ll have the chance to reserve some family-friendly options. First, choose a stateroom large enough for everyone. Cabins probably aren’t as small as you think, but you still don’t want to feel crammed on top of each other. A cabin with a balcony might be nice if you want a little fresh air and distance when your teen is being moody or you don’t want to wake a napping toddler.
If you can choose your dining time, choose one that best matches your child’s regular routine. This can help you avoid hangry meltdowns. And while you’re at it, look into family-friendly restaurants onboard. This could include anything from always having chicken nuggets on the menu to visits from their favorite characters during breakfast.
In addition to being easy to plan, cruises are a downright romantic way to enjoy quality time with your other half. With countless options onboard and at shore, cruises offer something for every kind of couple. If date nights have been feeling a little ho-hum, it might be time for a cruise.
Many cruise lines offer specialty accommodations for couples. Depending on your cruise line, you can indulge in experiential extras for your room, including champagne service, fresh flowers, balcony breakfasts, and even professional massages.
Your cabin can be transformed into a romantic getaway, perfect for recuperating after a full day in the sun. While there’s no place like home, a private palace at sea has its perks, too.
If it’s less about romance and more about being an adventurous, dynamic duo, there’s plenty of opportunity for that as well. Pay special attention to the on-ship entertainment and shore excursions to find options that match your desired activity level. Some shows are all about audience participation, so if you or your significant other love the limelight, now is the time to shine.
No matter your travel style, cruises offer a chance to meet lots of other people. Explore new destinations or lounge around the ship with new (childfree) travel companions. And if you’re a fan of learning about other cultures, you’re in luck.
The staff on cruise ships are generally very pleasant, and they are from all over the world. If you’re interested in learning about people from different backgrounds and cultures, you can talk with them to learn about their experiences and their lives back home. As a couple, it might be easier to strike up a conversation than when you’re traveling as a large group or family.
For adventurous twosomes who want to get their heart racing during a cruise, consider expedition cruises. This style of cruise tends to spend more time on shore at out-of-the-way destinations. Your excursions will likely take you off the beaten path so you can experience local culture in a more authentic way. Activities could be simply exploring a new city in New Zealand or something more active like kayaking the inland waters of a Nordic country.
Sometimes the last thing you want when you’re taking a cruise as a couple is to be around other people’s kids. If that sounds like you, look for a cruise line that offers adults-only ships or has public spaces set aside just for the grown-ups.
Viking Cruises was picked by U.S. News & World Report as its number one cruise line for couples partly for this reason. The cruise line doesn’t allow children under 18 on any of its ships. Instead of playgrounds, you’ll find ship-wide libraries. Instead of family-friendly restaurants, you’ll find wine tastings with a sommelier.
Virgin Voyages is also all adults, all the time. They describe their on-ship entertainment as “festival-style,” so don’t be surprised to find shows that are more on the risqué side. There are unexpected pop-up performances, R-rated comedy acts, and an interactive cabaret with a resident sexologist, all balanced with fine dining, luxurious lounges, and group fitness classes to maintain your wellness.
If you decide to forgo an adults-only cruise but still are hoping to avoid lots of families, look for a cruise ship that offers adults-only enclaves. These are portions of the ship or amenities that are limited to just the grown-ups and can include private dining, kid-free pools, and more.
Depending on how flexible your schedule is, try to book a cruise when kids are in school. You’ll not only have fewer families onboard, but it’s also likely to be at a time when fares are lower. Traveling during the shoulder season is generally less expensive. Exactly when the off-season is depends on where the cruise goes. July, for example, is peak season in Alaska but low season in Australia.
Are you planning a cruise for Valentine’s Day or an anniversary? Consider destinations with an extra dose of romance. Condé Nast Traveler picked Princess Cruises’ Mexican Riviera itinerary as one the most romantic cruises of 2023. Hawaii, French Polynesia — think Tahiti or Bora Bora — and Monte Carlo are also popular destinations for couples.
Finally, book excursions and activities you can do together. Maybe you’re both foodies and want to try fried conch. Explore the restaurant scene in the Bahamas together for that delicacy. Maybe you want to spend one of your sea days taking a class learning how to paint watercolor scenery. It could be that you want to reserve a luxury stateroom and have breakfast on your private veranda every morning. Review potential itineraries together and decide as a team what does (and doesn’t) look fun.
One of the benefits of cruises in general — that someone else handles most of the logistics — can be especially appealing to solo travelers. When you travel alone, where you go, what you do, what and when you eat, and how to navigate is 100% on you.
Some people love to be in charge like that. But after days on the road, it can get exhausting. Decision fatigue is real as a single traveler, but cruises take out the need for you to figure everything out on your own. This can greatly improve the enjoyment you get from your vacation.
Cruises are also a great place to meet people. There are potentially thousands of other passengers all in one place, giving you the chance to interview for your new travel bestie. Some cruise lines do their part to make this even easier by hosting social events and designating locations for single travelers to connect.
If you’re new to traveling solo, cruises can help combat some of the anxiety of getting out there on your own. Dining alone, which is a huge fear for a lot of solo travelers, won’t be an issue onboard. Not having anyone to explore town/go snorkeling/take a pasta making class with isn’t likely to happen, either. Simply choose the activities and excursions the cruise line organizes, and you’ll aways have someone to keep you company and provide safety in numbers when you explore.
One of the downsides of taking a cruise on your own, and traveling alone in general, is that you often get hit with additional charges because you’re solo. This is especially common at hotels where they provide a double bed assuming multiple people will be sharing the cost. Without the second person, you’re expected to foot the entire bill yourself.
There are a few ways you can avoid single supplement fees or get them reduced.
When you’re trying to budget as a single traveler, the best cruise line might be the one without single supplement fees. Norwegian Cruise Lines and Royal Caribbean are two that have studio or solo cabins, so you aren’t incurring an up-charge just for being on you own.
Look for a cruise that matches your “vibe.” This is true for any type of traveler, singles included. For example, if you’re looking for a social scene, try a cruise line like Virgin Voyages. Their ship entertainment is designed to be a party. If you prefer more solitary activities, choose a line that offers more time in port when you can put some distance between you and your fellow passengers.
First up: know the difference between a “solo cruise” and a “singles cruise.” A solo cruise is one that you take by yourself. A singles cruise is one you take with the goal of meeting a partner. If you want to read your book in peace on the pool deck, you need a solo cruise.
People often worry that they’ll be lonely cruising by themselves. The truth is that if you’re lonely, it’s probably because you chose to be. If you’re taking a cruise by yourself to unplug and have some “me time,” you can do that. If you want connection and adventure, you can find that, too.
Choosing a shorter cruise is another option if you aren’t sure about being stuck on a boat “by yourself.” Think of it as a test drive. If you find you love solo cruising, book something longer or more exotic next time.
Finally, follow the same advice we gave above for couples. Consider an adults-only cruise if you want to avoid having kids around. Certain cruise lines and ships require passengers to be at least 18 years old to book.
All cruise ships, regardless of where they originated, are required to meet ADA accessibility requirements if they sail in U.S. waters. However, not all cruise lines provide the same accommodations for individuals with limited mobility, visual and hearing impairments, and other challenges.
Travelers with disabilities should take special care to research not only the ship’s accessibility but also that of any ports they’ll visit.
It’s best to check with your cruise line about their policy on service animals. Generally, service animals are permitted on a cruise provided they are certified and suitably trained.
If you’re visiting another country, you’ll need to make sure you have the proper documentation for the service animal to go with you on shore.
Royal Caribbean routinely is named one of the best cruise lines for disabled passengers. The ships’ accommodations for those with physical disabilities is extensive, and staff are trained to meet travelers’ unique needs.
Royal Caribbean and Celebrity Cruises (they’re owned by the same parent company) also have autism-friendly ships. You’ll find priority check-in, special dietary accommodations, grouping by ability rather than only by age for kids’ activities, autism-friendly films and toy lending programs, and more on these ships.
Additionally, Royal Caribbean partners with Autism on the Seas to provide vacations for adults and families living with Autism, Down Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, and other intellectual and cognitive disabilities. These Staff Assisted Cruises provide specialized activities, and staff are specifically trained to work with passengers who face a range of challenges.
Also, you might find it helpful to look for cruise lines tailored to older travelers. Because its passengers tend to be older, Holland America Line, for example, can be a good choice when it comes to accommodating mobility and hearing impairments.
If you require special accommodations, make the cruise line aware of this as soon as possible, ideally when you book your cruise. They may ask you to complete an additional form describing what services or assistance you need.
It’s important to be aware that these “Special Needs Forms” can also include requests for conditions such as diabetes, so if you need an in-room refrigerator for medication or disposal for hypodermic needles, they can usually provide those with advanced noticed.
Many cruise lines can also accommodate special diets for food intolerances and allergies, but it’s best to confirm this as it can vary by ship, even when they’re operated by the same line.
Depending on your needs, specific accommodations to check with a cruise line about include:
Why is this even a question? According to Cruise Critic, there’s some evidence that LGBTQ+ individuals cruise at higher rates than heterosexual individuals. Part of the reason for this is because of the inclusive nature of cruises (we’re talking socially inclusive and “all the amenities are included” inclusive).
For some people, taking a gay- or lesbian-exclusive cruises is one of the few times they’re comfortable being out. Once onboard, they’re fully committed to meeting other people and enjoying the community.
To an extent, the spectrum of people you’ll meet will vary depending on the cruise line you choose. Not only does this include how they identify, but also whether they’re a single traveler, in couples, with friends, or part of a group.
Just as there’s a difference between singles cruises and solo cruises, there is a difference between gay cruises and gay-friendly cruises. Gay or lesbian cruises are exclusive to that community. Gay-friendly cruises, on the other hand, will have passengers of all orientations. The cruise line likely has a reputation for being open and accepting, and may have queer-focused activities — think “Friends of Dorothy” events — included on the itinerary.
There are a handful of companies that provide all-gay and all-lesbian charters. One of the leaders is VACAYA. Having been on many queer-focused cruises themselves, VACAYA’s founders loved the freedom and inclusiveness they found. However, they craved the greater variety of activities offered on more mainstream cruise lines. And so they created VACAYA to bridge that gap between the openness of exclusive cruises and the touring options of mainstream ones.
If you’re looking for a gay-friendly cruise line, start your search with Celebrity Cruises. In 2018, it became the first cruise line to legally marry same-sex couples at sea, and it routinely sponsors LGBTQ events during its summer sailings. Celebrity has won the Cruizie Award multiple times for Best Large Ship Cruise Lines for LGBTQ+ Passengers.
When you’re choosing a cruise line, you might dig deeper than looking just at the itinerary. Do your research to find those that support gay and human rights to make sure they’re doing more than just talking the talk. For example, Norwegian Cruise Lines supports the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association, and Royal Caribbean’s parent company had a perfect rating on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index in 2022.
The extra effort on your part to find cruise lines with positive track records should not only improve the chances of you having a truly fabulous trip, but you’ll also be doing your part to support responsible travel.
Your planning also needs to include research on the laws, customs, and inclusiveness of the ports you’ll be visiting. For example, Amsterdam has a reputation for being particularly accepting. But if you’re considering a cruise to Saudi Arabia — the Middle Eastern country welcomed cruise ships for the first time in 2022 — do so with caution. Same-sex activity is illegal in Saudi Arabia for both men and women and can be punishable by death.
Journalist and LGBTQ writer Lawrence Ferber shared his top tips with Seven Corners for getting back out there safely as an LGBTQ+ traveler.
Once you’ve booked your cruise, it’s time to pack. All the usual items apply — check out our cruise packing list — but with a few caveats. LGTBQ+ cruises are generally more relaxed and casual. That means you can leave the formal wear at home and prepare instead for theme nights. There might still be plenty of glam and bowties, just … not in the typical ways.
Who needs travel insurance for a cruise? Honestly, every person and group we’ve mentioned above. The good news is that Seven Corners provides protection that fits the needs of each of these individuals.
If you’re traveling with a large group or extended family — 10 or more people — you can get group travel insurance.
If you’re headed to another country, we have travel medical coverage to protect you if you get sick or hurt while traveling. Your domestic health insurance likely doesn’t cover you in another country, so having this coverage to help with medical expenses is essential.
If you’re taking a cruise for a Pride event, Seven Corners travel insurance covers same-sex couples.
One of the benefits you want to look for in your travel insurance is missed tour/cruise connection coverage. If you miss your cruise ship due to a delay that meets the time length stated in your plan document (three hours for Seven Corners Trip Protection Basic and Choice) and because of a covered reason, the missed cruise and tour connection benefit reimburses you for these items:
When flight schedules are constantly changing and you never know if your airline will be delayed, having this benefit can be a real difference-maker.
The best cruise for you is waiting. Protect what you invest in your vacation with the right trip protection. Use our interactive guide online to help you find the right plan for you, or talk to a licensed agent today.